So much of my recent time has been spent on trains and traveling – i thought i would share some of what i have been experiencing…
It seems that traveling by train in India is one of those adventures that everyone should have before they die. For being a massive country with a massive population, train travel here is amazingly easy, efficient and cheap. I have not had any problems getting tickets – once I discovered the foreign ticket office found at almost every railway station. The agents have been super helpful, even when I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to head (I had a moment the other day when I _almost_ went south again!). And here is the most amazing thing — it is all done on computer, but each train has a print out of all it’s passengers. So – I can walk up to the train I am about to take and taped to the compartment is a list of all the passengers. And the conductors walk around with their lists of passengers when they check the tickets I know that does not sound that impressive, but I just think that for every train that is traveling through India at all times has a print out of every passenger – which is thousands of passengers daily. I mean – that is a whole other level of organization (and I cannot help but think that if they have this figured out why a) we can’t have it in America and b) there is such disfunction in other areas – like why I get ripped off every time i get in a taxi….)
As I have said, I _prefer_ traveling in AC — it is cleaner, you get sheets and a blanket, you have a curtain that you can close around your compartment (though not around your particular berth) and just all around nicer. But – my last couple of trains have been in sleeper — which is a bit more ‘real’, I guess you could say. Or another way to say it would be that they are noiser, dirtier and not a whole lot of privacy (not that you are going to sleep nekkid in AC – but at least you don’t have people staring at you while you are sleeping!). But, the price! I just took a sleeper from Mumbai to Ajmer – it took 20 hours and cost me just under 400 rupees — which means it costs all of 8$ to travel that distance. Yes, I agree, pretty unbelievable!
Before I took a train in India, all I could picture was scenes from Darjeeling Express or people crammed into trains – hanging off the sides, but it is not quite like that. I think what is most incredible, besides the whole train-travel-as-a-way-of-transportation (as America hasn’t done so well with that one is):
- people coming through selling everything from books to playing cards to locks/chains for your bags to repair materials for shoes
- getting a piping hot cuppa chai for 5 rupees (and this can be replenished every 15 minutes or so as the guys come through)
- being able to be well fed – with everything from the meal you can get on board (you order it and costs no more than a buck fifty) or what they sell up and down the aisles – samosas, chips, and a whole plethora of other things that I have no idea what they are — and depend on the region you are in
Almost every train i have been on has been predominantly men and mostly all Indian. yesterday was the first train that I was on that had another tourist sitting in the same compartment as me. I get lots of stares, but I am pretty much used to that now, but what I love is watching these guys start up conversations with each other and imaging what they are talking about. I love seeing them become friends on the journey – laughing together. One of my favorite scenes was from Hubli to Mumbai. The compartment I was in had a group of men that were boxers and weightlifters (if their shirts with the name of their gym hadn’t given them away – their barrel chests and tiny waists would have. Well, that and the fact that they outweighed most Indian men by a gazillion pounds (as Indian men might be the skinniest group, on a whole, of men EVER!) And it was hard to remember, seeing them, that they were Indian – as they could easily have been American gym-rats.
[Side note: I have told you how affectionate men are here, right? They hold hands, they put their arms around each other’s waists, they sit against each other with arms resting on each other’s thighs – ok, now that you remember that, read on…]
But these muscle-heads — their affectionate touch reminded me of their Indian-ness. I want you to just imagine this scene — a bunch of gym rats sitting around with their arms around each other, on each other, their hands resting on another one’s knees – and then wanting to make sure I had dinner and ready to share their dinner with me! I unfortunately had already eaten, as I would have loved to eat with them as they were so intriguing to me. Do you think that they are vegetarians (like so much of India?) Did they carbo-load? watch their protein intake? drink shakes? so many questions….
In Mumbai, I had to take a commuter line in order to get to another train station where my next train was leaving from. I read that 2.5 million people travel through the main Mumbai station every day, and I believe it! It was a pretty crazy scene at rushhour – and me there with my backpack — not so helpful to the locals. But I got myself figured out and got on my commuter train – it was leaving shortly so I hopped onto the nearest car and found myself surrounded by… women! I had to look twice, all around me, women. Wait a second… this cannot be India – the land of men! Sure enough, I had accidentally, but correctly, landed in the women’s car of the train. It was an amazing sight – all the different vibrant colors of the saris and clothes, the western dressed women, the women texting and talking on phones and resting their eyes after a long day at work. I got some smiles as I tried to deal with all my stuff — and best of all — no staring! I mean, I was staring at all of them, and some of them were watching me — but how different it felt! No cold stares, no one watching my every move, not the feeling of being so utterly watched. It was great. I smiled to myself and sat back – relaxed. Which is how so many of them must feel as they ride to and from work (otherwise, why would they ride in that compartment?).
I only have one more train to take – from Jaidpur to Delhi. It is sad to not have any more big train adventures in front of me…
Some of you have asked how I am doing on my $30/day budget and I am happy to report that I am doing really well with this! In fact, the first three months have been under budget – which allowed me to buy a plane ticket from Buenos Aires to El Calafate (instead of taking a 30 hour bus ride) to meet up with my friend Beth to do some trekking before to big climb (or – in other words – an attempt to get in shape before the climb). And the best part of my budget is that I have not had to really work at it! I have had a few days that have been WAY over budget – but usually that is because I have been ripped off in some way – but for the most part, it has been easy to stay below. In India, my biggest cost is accomodations – but I try to keep that close to $8-10/night which is pretty easy (there is cheaper but after the bedbug fiasco cleanliness is high on my priority list).
Then for food — it would be easy to spend a lot there, but as I have mentioned, my favorite place to get food is the hole in the wall places — though that is not always feasible (it was super easy down south — not sure what it will be like up here). but, even if I go really big, which would be about $4/meal — that still leaves me with 8$ a day to do stuff. And most of the stuff that I like to eat does not cost much – so it is pretty easy to stay in budget (basically, i stay away from the western food – which is fine by me!). I definitely could be doing things cheaper – but so far my lifestyle feels pretty good.
As for the rest of things… well, some of my stuff has taken a beating — my pack is ripped in several spots, two (of my four) t-shirts have holes in them but it is my silk sleeping bag liner that is suffering the most! I have had it for 3+ years (got it for my first trip to India) so, i have definitely slept in it countless times — but it is ripping on pretty much every seam – right now there are 3 very large holes . And I have sewn it together in a bunch of spots, only to have it rip again, right next to where I repaired it (thanks to Jess for the sewing kit — i love the hot pink thread!). It will be interesting to see what kind of shape it is in by June! And yes, for those of you wondering, I am already sick of my limited wardrobe. All I can think is – thank god I packed those extra pants…
be well friends. i am sitting here in the restaurant of my guesthouse, having rice pudding and chai (after having a good masala dosa from a street cart) watching the lunar eclipse through the window.
love — aurora